Among gifted directors who are also shrewd businessmen, Steven Spielberg outranks them all. Case in point: the DVD release of his 1998 Oscar-winning triumph, Saving Private Ryan.
Though a few of the director’s movies have already trickled out on the nascent disc format (”The Color Purple,” ”Always,” ”1941”), Spielberg has gotten lots of press by declining to authorize DVDs of the blockbuster section of his catalog — until now. Is this because DVD only recently began supporting DTS sound mixes, which are supervised by a company in which Spielberg has a major financial stake? Or is it because consumer interest in DVD is just reaching critical mass, with over half a million players shipped to dealers in September alone?
Whatever the impetus, Spielberg smartly chose his most technically accomplished work to mark his first major embrace of home video’s most technically advanced format. On DVD, Ryan’s seemingly cauterized imagery fully matches and in some ways even outdoes theatrical prints for sheer articulation of the desaturated color scheme cooked up by Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to evoke World War II’s combat horrors. The technicians who mastered this DVD seem able to highlight the sad, haunted eyes of Tom Hanks and the incongruously peachy skin of Matt Damon with just a hair more pixel-specific emphasis when the drama calls for it.
The supplements on the DVD and on the concurrent new VHS collector’s edition — chiefly a 25-minute ”making-of” featurette — are mostly tub-thumping and don’t merit much repeat viewing. (Notable exception: clips from 8 mm war movies that Spielberg shot as an adolescent, complete with simulated dirt-displacing explosions.) A bigger bonus is the all-around-you Dolby Digital sound (or DTS, on a forthcoming separate DVD release), which has a broad but localized sweep VHS can’t touch.
This certainly isn’t the grandest Spielberg showcase ever conceived for video in terms of bonus goodies. But because the DVD offers instant ”chapter” access, the sheer pleasure of riffling through the scene-selection menus and sampling standout sequences like 45s on a jukebox can’t be beat. It’s such a state-of-the-art disc, it leaves you primed to reexperience Spielberg’s greatest hits via DVD’s audiovisual heft. Mission accomplished.